THE HEART OF CONVERSATIONThere was distance between them.Steve was a sales manager in Michigan. A lost heart, he had surrendered himself to the idea of not being someone’s someone special. He was an affable guy, not un-handsome by any stretch. Sure, he was shorter, with a bit of a paunch. His hairline, although creeping toward the rear, wasn’t in full retreat. A regular guy, Steve was generous to a fault. He’d give the shirt off of his back. It was only inwardly that he admitted he would rather give someone his heart.Susan seemed like she were half a world away. She had resignations of her own. Susan had given up hope of finding that one true love of fairy tales and romance novels, which would take her up in its muscular arms and carry her away. Unfortunately, her self-image had taken the red-eye out of town years ago, leaving Susan holding its baggage. As she saw herself, there wasn’t a man alive that would be attracted to Susan. In her eyes, she was a plain Jane; a self-proclaimed “overweight, Old Maid” living day-to-day without flair or passion.But, affections are funny things. They find you long after you have stopped looking for them. No star-crossed lovers were they. Steve and Susan gave up on fate and kismet. And fell into each other’s realm of influence from a thousand miles away. Mutual friends of a casual acquaintance suggested they’d get along “famously”. So far, they weren’t wrong.Steve observed something about his office mates. He was aware that some were married. He knew a couple guys were gay. The very apparent ones were “players”, or at least they thought of themselves in those terms. Almost all of them had some significant someone close by to fill their days (or in the latter case, a good part of the evening!)One thing was clear. As Steve saw, these people communicated in hieroglyphics, texting (or all a-twitter ,tweeting). ILY, LY2, @, ROFLMAO, #, <3 <3 <3… Quick pokes with their thumbs and they were off. With all their “someone” within arms reach. But Steve suspected their arms were as often as empty as his. If only his arms were longer…Susan fostered similar thoughts about the people in her secretarial pool. Blog postings and e-mail letter responses intended to express emotion. But the “click” of the plastic keys sounded awfully the same as… “Dear Mr. Smith, in regards to your memo of the 13th…” The impersonal nature of such words irked her greatly. Reality made it nearly impossible for Susan and Steve to reconcile their feelings.They saw the futility of 140 characters. There was no spontaneity in an un-opened e-mail. When the computer serves went down, the instant message lingered in a cyber-limbo. Communication was a lost art.Susan reached for the receiver of her desk phone at the exact moment it started to ring. “Hello, Susan?” came the distant query.“Steve? I was just thinking of …” even in actuality the truth sounded contrived. “What a surprise!” she relented.“Hey, it appears I WILL be out in your area on Valentine’s Day, and I was wondering…”Susan smiled. After months of correspondence over miles, sometimes in the cursed quick blurbs of intimate thought, finally… FINALLY! They’d get the chance to meet “officially” face-to-face. Initially, she would have been leery of this kind of encounter. But there was a bond that had developed, a trust that trumped any quick liaison. Steve and Susan liked the deliberateness of their connection.“… OK, I’ll plan on seeing you on the 14th then! I can’t wait!” she said excitedly.“Uh,… Susan?” he started, “I… uh, think I… uh…” and awkward pause surrounded their thoughts.In the same instance, they simultaneously finished Steve’s thought.“I love you!” resounded in synchronous reply.Susan and Steve laughed out loud.
My Forever ValentineI’m a simple man. I’ve minded my own business. I’ve worked hard. It took a while to get used to the questions, to not feel so judged. But I have come to terms with the fact that this is my lot in life — I worked in a factory all my life. Sure, I wish I had been able to finish high school – even go on to college for that history degree. I’d have been a good teacher, I think. That was the plan, anyway. Until the summer of 1951.With news of Dad’s death in Korea, I found myself the man of the house at 15 years of age. My after-school jobs in the neighborhood for weekend pocket money became the means for making ends meet. Soon it became clear that I needed to do more. On my 16th birthday I dropped out of school and began working for a factory in the heart of academia, where I might not have been getting an education, but did a lot of learning about life.Day after day I made the trip from our neighborhood in Boston to Cambridge. The work wasn’t challenging, but the money for Mom and my sisters made it worthwhile. I learned the value of steady work and being able to provide. I learned about dignity and taking pride in my work.And I learned about love.The noon whistle sent my fellow shift workers to the break room. Not me. I ventured the short distance to the university to sit on a park bench to eat my lunch. Other than my clothes, I didn’t look so different from the students crossing my path. It was there that Joanie (Joan, to everyone else, but I still call her Joanie) first asked me a question. It was simply “what time is it?” that first day, but it changed time for me, forever.I looked forward to a new question each day – some required Joanie to sit for a while to get the answer. We enjoyed our chats during those last two years she was a student. Our friendship grew to much more.Valentines Day her senior year I finally tapped into my connections at work and my coworkers helped me put together a special box of the Conversation Hearts we had been making by the truckload. This box was full of hearts all with the same thing. Appropriately, it was a question: marry me?Today is our 50th wedding anniversary. I’ve since retired from NECCO. However, like every year since our wedding day, I still fill a box of Conversation Hearts just for Joanie. I’m so lucky she said yes, and that she’s mine.# # #My name links you to the story on my blog.